Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem Explained

Mitt Romney has a problem. It’s a Mormon problem.  But it’s not the problem you think it is.

When most people think of Mitt’s Mormon problem they think it has something to do with Evangelicals.  It’s true that Evangelicals don’t like Mormonism and it seems apparent that Evangelicals would prefer to not vote for a Mormon.  But Evangelicals are very pragmatic.  When it comes to an election Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon who fits their political values.  Most Evangelicals haven’t been faced with that before, but when push comes to shove they’ll do exactly what Evangelicals in Utah, Idaho and Arizona do, pick the candidate that best fits their political worldview.

Mitt has a bigger problem when it comes to the general election and it’s not about Evangelicalism. It’s about Mormonism.

You see, as far back as 1847, the LDS church under Brigham Young denied the priesthood to those of African descent. For the average person, what you need to know is that this meant blacks were second class citizens in the Mormon church.  They could join but their involvement was limited.  This continued until 1978.

In 1978 Mitt Romney was about 31 years old.  Already exhibiting considerable intelligence and leadership skills, not to mention being the son of a prominent Mormon leader; Mitt took on leadership roles in the church from an early age.

That means if a black couple came to Mitt and said “we want to do it right. We want to live out the very best of our religion; we want to get married in the temple for all of time and eternity.”  Mitt would have had to say to them, “Sorry wrong skin color.”

If that black family came to Mitt and said “We want our family to be sealed together forever as the Prophet Joseph Smith says can happen. Mitt would have had to say “Sorry, wrong skin color.”

If that same black man came to Mitt Romney and said “I want to baptize my son into the church” Mitt would have had to say “Your son is welcome to be baptized, but you his father can’t do it,  Sorry, wrong skin color.”

If that same baby turned 12 years old. He would have seen all his friends take on the new responsibility of serving the sacrament to the rest of the congregation. But to that young man, Mitt would have had to say “Sorry wrong skin color.”

You see, I believe Mitt was excited, like many Mormons when this ban was lifted in 1978.  I take his word for it that he and his father advocated for civil rights in the public sphere. But when it came to practicing his faith, — Mitt was entrenched in institutional racism.  As a local leader, he was the business end of the church’s policy. It was when black families confronted Mitt Romney that they discovered that all men were created equal, but if you were the wrong skin color, you were less equal than others.  If they happened to object, all Mitt could say was “Sorry wrong skin color”.

To make matters worse, this was a policy of the church. Not a doctrine.  NO ONE can point to a specific set of Mormon scriptures and say “see this is why Blacks can’t have the priesthood”.  It was just a policy set in place by the church’s racist leadership. There was no dictate from God about it.  No one said “thus sayeth the Lord”.  It just happened because that’s what this bunch of frontier religious entrepreneurs thought was best. By locating themselves in the middle of the desert they very intentionally were isolated from the rest of society. They flourished and grew without much opposition to this policy.

The official church headquarters doesn’t say much about anything controversial.  But if you ask the unofficial apologist, many of them professors at BYU, they will tell you that this ban on blacks was a relic of the age.  Racism was common back then.  Slavery was still legalized.  Lots of religious folk were citing the curse of Cain and segregating the races.

That’s true.  All of it.  The LDS church was not different than many Protestant churches in this regard.  Compared to the Southern Baptist church of the 1860’s they were light years ahead on issues of race.  But we’re not talking about Brigham Young in 1860.  We’re talking about Mitt Romney.  In 1978.

Here’s the other thing that makes the issue different for the LDS church.  They claim to have God’s one and only true prophet.  This man knows the heart of God better than anyone else on the planet.  If God is going to speak to any church about matters of faith and practice it’s going to be with this man.

As society moved forward and the injustices of race were highlighted and reformed, the LDS church kept with their ban.  By the time 1978 rolled around, the Mormons were practically the only institutional holdouts.  Meanwhile, their prophet didn’t do anything to change the church and Mitt Romney didn’t do anything to change the church.

If you go to Mormon.org and ask the missionaries there, why was this ban in place, they’ll say “I don’t know, it hasn’t been revealed”.  Talk to Mormons and they’ll tell you we wanted it to be changed, but it couldn’t be changed.  God wasn’t talking.

So if we’ve got this straight.  They’ve got the one and only true and living Prophet in the whole world.  But that guy couldn’t hear God and the rest of society say “this is wrong”.  Mitt Romney looked around at the things happening in the world and then in regards to this institutional racism  he looked at his prophet and said “I sustain you”.  Further when he encountered blacks who want to participate in his faith,  he said “I’m willing to be the enforcer, I’m willing to tell them “Okay, but just a little bit, after all; wrong skin color.”

And the maddening thing about this is. . . as savvy Mormon apologist will tell you. . . it wasn’t doctrinal.  It was just a racist policy.  They didn’t need to hear from God to change this.  It wasn’t scriptural.  It was policy.  Do you know what a church policy is?  Things like let’s use a guitar instead of a pipe organ. Let’s meet at 9am instead of 10am.  Let’s make the pews mauve instead of teal.  You don’t need to hear from God to make policy changes, especially if you have nothing in your scriptures backing them up.  But Mitt Romney and his prophet, persisted all the way until 1978.

This is a problem for Mitt Romney in 2012.  Because the guy currently serving as President is Barack Hussein Obama.  Someone to whom Mitt Romney in 1978 would have had to say “Sorry wrong skin color”.

The LDS church has never apologized for this misstep.  They haven’t even sufficiently clarified to their own members that it was a policy, born out of 19th Century racial sentiments, not a doctrine.  The missionaries at Mormon.org don’t need to say “we don’t know” when you ask them why blacks were not allowed to get married in their temples.  They should do exactly what the prophet Thomas Monson should do.  They should say “We were wrong.  It shouldn’t have happened. We’re sorry it happened and we’re so glad that it’s not happening anymore because we believe in justice and we failed to live up to our own ideals.”

So when this issue comes up for Mitt Romney he needs to look at Barack Obama and the American people and do more than say “I was glad for the change.”  He needs to own his own part in it.  He needs to apologize. He needs to say it was wrong. And if his church is unwilling to make a positive step like that, then he needs to prove to all of us that he’s a leader and he needs to lead.

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104 thoughts on “Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem Explained

  1. I understand your post and it will certainly be brought up as a past issue. However; 1.) Romney did not make church doctrine 2.) As an officer of the church he was required to follow official church doctrine and policy.

    You are flat out wrong that it was a policy of “whim”. A major factual error in your post when you wrote; “To make matters worse, this was a policy of the church. Not a doctrine. NO ONE can point to a specific set of Mormon scriptures and say “see this is why Blacks can’t have the priesthood”. It was just a policy set in place by the church’s racist leadership. There was no dictate from God about it. No one said “thus sayeth the Lord”. It just happened because that’s what this bunch of frontier religious entrepreneurs thought was best.” The ACTUAL doctrinal and scriptural references to the priesthood being denied to the descendants of Cain are in the Pearl of Great Price; Abraham 1:21-24,27
    Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
    From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
    The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
    When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
    Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;

    Disagreeing with the doctrine is understandable. But claiming it was not in the LDS canon of scripture is incorrect.

  2. Garth, are you under the impression that blacks of African descent really are the descendants of Cain and Ham? Really? How do you know this?

    FYI, the idea didn’t come from Mormon prophets. It came from antebellum Southern Protestant slaveholders who desperately needed a biblical justification for race-based slavery. They had a firm enough biblical case for slavery in general, but then the northerners replied, “So, why are only black people slaves? Shouldn’t white people be eligible for slavery as well?” So the Southerners ran back to their Bibles, found the material on Cain and Ham, and asserted without any evidence whatsoever that blacks were the descendants of Cain and Ham and that was why only black people could be slaves. Mormons simply copied the idea from Southern evangelicals and adapted it to fit their own institutional racism.

    What you find in the PoGP may be doctrine, but if Mormons have revealed by revelation that the Southern Protestant slaveholders got it right and black people really are the descendants of Cain and Ham, that’s news to me.

  3. Tim: I can’t see this post as anything but an attempt to disown—through re-explanation—the prejudice of many of your fellow Evangelicals. For some that prejudice comes from bigotry, others from ignorance. It is the very same prejudice that existed during the 2008 primaries.

  4. Garth, bad apologetics about our tragic racist past do more harm than good.

    Tim, great point. This is something we need to repent for as a people. If Romney does the right thing, he can apply some pressure and make a real impact. I pray he does.

  5. Tim,

    As I was watching your video I realized that you had to choose either to follow the current Mormon apologia OR the traditional explanation for the ban. To try and do both would just be too confusing. But, as I was listening I was predicting that one of the first critiques out of the gate would be that FAIR style apologetics is wrong from a traditional Mormon. Thanks Garth for not disappointing me. (And please, let’s not let this devolve into someone moaning and complaining about my vocabulary choices. It’s clear there are several strains of Mormon thought. It’s also clear that many people would rather complain about vocabulary than actually deal with the strains of thought. So, if you were offended by “traditional” and “FAIR style,” please silently insert whatever politically correct descriptive term you happen to prefer in place of those terms and move on.)

    Brian,

    So calling Mormons leaders on racism is nothing more than an attempt to cover up Evangelical anti-Mormonism? Nice. I’ve generally come to expect all sorts of border policing which prevents outsiders from discussing Mormon issues, but this one is really cute. “How dare you discuss our racism, you racist!”

  6. I agree Tim, that this is the big Mormon problem that no one seems to talk about. I’ve been saying since 2007 that a Mitt nomination could potentially be very bad for Mormons who think the priesthood ban was something other than institutional racism. I’ve also said that it could be very good for the log term health of Mormonism, essentially forcing the Church to do what has been long overdue (apologize). But, let me also say, that you overestimate how this will effect Mitt’s electability in the voting booth. A decent portion of America is still pretty racist behind closed doors. And for the younger generation, 1978 is not really much different than 1968 (where blame can be spread far and wide).

  7. Brian, you don’t think Tim has a good point that this is problematic for Romney? I don’t love Tim’s tone in this video, and it’s true that as a result it will fan flames of hostility as opposed to bring about any sort of reconciliation (just look at the comments already on YouTube), but if I distance myself from the emotion of it, I can’t disagree with the content of what he’s saying. I really believe that an apology and some clarification from the brethren about why it happened would be *such* a healing step for us.

    This isn’t so much about politics for me, but about repentance and the spiritual strength it takes to make amends, even when it casts us in a bad light, even when it opens us up to ridicule and scorn. Haters will hate and will find reasons to criticize no matter what. We will have the peace of conscience that comes from owning our mistakes and asking for forgiveness from God and those we’ve harmed.

  8. Did people miss the point Tim was making to which I responded? I offered no apologetics, defense, or rebuttal of blacks and the priesthood question. I did not opine at all in fact, on anything but a fact of clarification, lest Tim remained under the illusion that the denial of the Priesthood had zero scriptural basis in the LDS cannon. I simply pointed out that Tim misstated that there was “no LDS doctrinal SCRIPTURE” upon which the Mormon policy was based. Whether it ALSO reflected 1800′s thinking, bias, social “norms” of that era, bigotry, etc., was not even in my comments, so there were no “apologetics” Katie. Peter had bias against gentiles entering the church too, which he needed to overcome. (Gal 2) What the antebellum attitude of baptists was therefore has nothing to do with how the Mormons got their book of Abraham and it’s discussion of Cain. So relax folks…I’m not wearing a white hood…just pointing out an error in the original post so we’re all on the same starting point.

  9. BrianJ said:

    Tim: I can’t see this post as anything but an attempt to disown—through re-explanation—the prejudice of many of your fellow Evangelicals. For some that prejudice comes from bigotry, others from ignorance. It is the very same prejudice that existed during the 2008 primaries.

    Brian I was about to light you up but I may be misreading your comment. You’re saying that I am attempting to disown the prejudice of my fellow Evangelicals?

  10. Garth, I guess the explanation I’m most comfortable with is that the ban’s link to scripture is tenuous at best — and that it is only because of antebellum slavery apologetics that the curse of Cain/Ham stuff made its way into Mormon discourse.

    As Jack pointed out, there’s no proof that blacks of African descent are from Ham/Cain, so the fact that the Ham/Cain stuff is in scripture doesn’t make it relevant. I suppose you can try to make the argument that the ban had scriptural underpinnings, but for heaven’s sake I have no idea why you’d want to.

  11. Ya – noticed the tone too Katie.

    Although the LDS Church is a hierarchical/centralized religion, I see few other Christian/Jewish/Muslim believers in American who have much room to make a video of this sort. If Southern Protestants misused the Bible to justify slavery, the Bible (and more importantly a Protestant approach to the Bible) is not without blame. Tim, a similar questioning could be given (and has been given) to the potential Protestant nominees – “Are women the wrong gender for leadership in your congregation?”

  12. Garth,

    Since the scriptures are not self-interpreting, pointing out some verses that have been traditionally understood as a basis for priesthood restriction is not enough. The fact that Joseph Smith ordained black men to the priesthood cuts against the idea that these verses were interpreted that way until Brigham Young.

  13. Tim,

    I’m not sure that just because the priesthood ban was a policy and didn’t come from a revelation, that it means we didn’t need a revelation to overturn it. My main reason for thinking this is that it took a revelation to overturn it.

  14. As for the tone, I agree it’s not the correct tone to inspire change within Mormonism. As far as I can tell, there is no way for an outsider like myself to do anything to change institutional Mormonism other than severely threaten its pocketbook. This video is targeted at Romney and his campaign. I hope to get an apology out of Romney.

    Christian J, your point about women in leadership is well made. You’re right, a woman can’t be the head pastor at my church because all other things being equal, she doesn’t have a penis. Many would equally be scandalized that we wouldn’t allow an active homosexual to assume that role either. In both cases, our position is for doctrinal reasons not policy reasons. We can tell you exactly where in the Bible we garner our justification and why. Here and here for instance.

    I think the question of race issues and a Southern Baptist candidate is different. There is no candidate who was a functionary part of institutional racism within the Southern Baptist church in the same way Romney participated in institutional racism. I can look past the attitudes and practices of the Lutheran church 400 years ago. Michelle Bachmann doesn’t have to worry about that, she wasn’t participating in it. It’s even easier for me to look past objectionable things Obama’s own pastor said, even though they happened later in time. Obama wasn’t on the stage repeating them and he wasn’t carrying them out.

    As disturbing as Newt Gingrich’s personal behavior has been, he’s done far more than Romney in owning it and apologizing for it. This issue isn’t justifiable for Romney but it is understandable and forgivable.

  15. Some evangelicals may be racist, and most Mormons may not be racist at all. The LDS church doesn’t appear to be racist anymore, but there are traces of racism in their doctrine.
    There may be some racist Evangelical church or congregations, but there are no traces of racism in Evangelical doctrine. An Evangelical may not be able to fully disown the racism of her colleagues, but she can at least fully disown the racism of her leadership. She can reject any pastor or leader without giving up the tenants of her religion.

    As Tim explains. the problem lies in the fact that nobody accepts the Mormon explanation of institutional racism as valid. “Because God said, or didn’t say” doesn’t work for anybody. Even many Mormons have a problem with it. However, the church is stuck. To apologize would be to put a stamp on the flaws of Brigham Young, and others. This is something they have been extremely reluctant to do, and for good reason. Saying Brigham Young screwed up and was a bigot undermines his credibility as a prophet.

    Fortunately for Romney, those on the right hold other prejudices that are not accepted by many Americans (anti-gay bias) so they may be able to forgive Romney no matter what the institutional explanation is. Romney has no qualms about publicly going against LDS positions, even with doctrinal support (i.e. polygamy) and I am sure he will do this and leave it at that. I don’t think the institutional explanation is going to make a lot of difference. Most everybody thinks Mormonism is out to lunch as far as their explanations for their go anyway. If they can look past Romney’s belief that angels gave gold plates to Joseph Smith I think they can look past the sidestepping that the church has done with the race issue.

  16. If your kind of tone is what it takes to garner an apology Tim, then I suppose I can’t disagree with it…(I want the apology as much if not more than you do)

  17. Here is Romney’s clearest response so far

    And I believe him. But it still begs the question, why did he allow it to invade the most sacred space in his life?

  18. It’s a sad fact of our society that people simply do not care about discrimination against women the way they care about discrimination against blacks. There are a lot of reasons for why feminists didn’t make the same inroads on sexism that civil rights advocates made on racism, and I even think the feminists themselves are partially to blame (abortion: it was the wrong hill to die on). Bottom line, no one will be asking Mitt Romney (or any other candidate) about his church’s stance on women, even though one could draw many parallels between how pre-1978 Mormons treated blacks and how many conservative religious groups (evangelicals and Mormons alike) currently treat women.

    Garth, Tim said that there was no scriptural basis for the priesthood ban, and while it’s true that pre-1978 Mormons might have pointed to Abraham 1:21-24, 27 as a basis for the ban, most modern-day Mormons know that this does not work for the reasons I laid out above. There isn’t any evidence that blacks are descended from Cain or Ham; hell, there isn’t even any evidence that Cain and Ham existed outside of the Bible’s mention of them, so there can’t be any evidence of lineage. Mormons haven’t adopted a special revelation declaring that blacks really are the seed of Cain, so they have no evidence of such a lineage. That Mormon patriarchal blessings have (thankfully) stopped assigning black members to the lineage of Cain reflects this shift in thinking.

  19. So…rather than just wanting a citation of the LDS scriptural anchor of the priesthood being denied to descendants of Cain, NOW you also want archaeological proof that blacks were demonstrably descendants of Cain? Newsflash: We don’t even have archaeological “proof” that Adam and Eve were real, much less that Cain killed Abel, or Ham married Egyptus, etc., etc. Therefore, if you’re waiting for PROOF of X, Y or Z, you should be debating mathematics, not religion. May I point out, that 9 of the 10 tribes were likewise prohibited from holding the priesthood, as that was reserved only for the Levites. Why? The scriptures are mute on the why? But I don’t think God hated the other 9 tribes.

    When Katie posted above; “As Jack pointed out, there’s no proof that blacks of African descent are from Ham/Cain, so the fact that the Ham/Cain stuff is in scripture doesn’t make it relevant. I suppose you can try to make the argument that the ban had scriptural underpinnings, but for heaven’s sake I have no idea why you’d want to.”

    The reason you’d “want to” Katie, is because if we presume the B of Abraham is genuine scripture, (as the LDS do) then what it says “counts”. If God said it, really and truly, then to argue the only motive was man’s bias and prejudice, or BY was a bigot, or Mormons hate blacks, becomes un-true, doesn’t it? And remember, we’re talking the “cause” of the prohibition for the Mormons–not whether we like it or not. For those who consider it scripture, then the facts are bluntly stated; 1) Ham’s line perpetuated Cain’s lineage 2) Cain’s lineage at that time was prohibited from the priesthood. It’s only complicated if you presume that the B of Abraham is NOT genuine scripture. Then, if it was man’s invention, and all the arguments of bias, prejudice and bigotry are back on the table.

    It is obvious that those who don’t like Mormons and see the LDS church as a fraud, can and will ONLY site the latter scenario. But, if we’re talking the mind-set of Mitt Romney–who as a true believer accepts the scriptures as literally true–then we should be talking the former scenario for HIS part in this story. Therefore, if Romney is allowed to be a believing Mormon, then he had literally no choice, but to accept his church’s position. How could he not? Is he allowed to pick and choose which LDS scriptures he takes as true? Therefore, since Romney also knew that LDS teaching always taught that the day “would come” when the priesthood prohibition would be lifted, and God judges by merit of all men, and blacks would have all the blessings in due time–I think his conscience is rightly clear on this issue. The “motives” in his heart were correct, even if it would appear in 2011 to non-Mormons as a wrong-headed policy. I and 99.9% of LDS are glad the doctrine has been changed. But was it “corrected”? “Renounced”? or “Fulfilled”? That all depends on where you stand as to your point of view on Mormons as authentic. Since to Romney, the answer is “fulfilled”, I think this should be a non-issue to thinkers who understand the theological basis.

  20. I don’t agree with premise of the video. Yes, it will be a problem, but not that big of a problem. As someone who has been an on again/off again political activist, I believe Romney’s biggest problem is that he’s got to convince the average, common man that he cares for their problems, and is the right man to elect. I believed this before I met Mitt Romney in person, and I believe it even more now.

  21. It’s only complicated if you presume that the B of Abraham is NOT genuine scripture.

    Garth, you misunderstand the argument. You can accept the Book of Abraham as genuine scripture (as I do), and even that Ham/Cain were cursed in some way (as I do), without necessarily concluding that Ham/Cain are black Africans. That’s why Jack and Tim are bringing up archaeology — yes, the curse exists in scripture (it’s in the Bible, too), but what evidence do we have that black people are the remnant of Cain? As Jack rightly points out, there is no modern-day revelation declaring them such.

    Make more sense what we’re saying now?

    As to why you’d want to impute racism to God — well, either proposition is uncomfortable, of course, but I’ll take a mortal prophet being racist over God being racist any day of the week. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  22. P.S. The Levite argument is weak for this reason:

    In the OT, EVERYONE was excluded from the priesthood, except Levites.

    In the dispensation of the fullness of times, EVERYONE was given the priesthood, except black people.

    Big difference.

  23. Garth ~ I don’t require “archaeological proof” that blacks were the descendants of Cain. A simple doctrinal LDS source declaring that blacks were the descendants of Cain would do the trick. Can you do that much?

    And out of curiosity, do you personally believe that black people are the descendants of Cain? If so, how do you explain the fact that the idea originated with antebellum Protestant slaveholders who needed a justification for targeting blacks-only with their slavery?

    May I point out, that 9 of the 10 tribes were likewise prohibited from holding the priesthood, as that was reserved only for the Levites. Why? The scriptures are mute on the why? But I don’t think God hated the other 9 tribes.

    It’s true that non-Levites could not be priests in the Old Testament, but I think we can tell that God did not hate the other tribes because people from the other tribes served in significant spiritual leadership positions throughout the Bible. Most of the Old Testament prophets, all of the kings of Israel and Judah, and all of the Twelve apostles were not of the tribe of Levi. If blacks had been serving in significant LDS leadership positions prior to 1978 in spite of not having the priesthood, the complaints about racism would be considerably less. But this wasn’t the case.

    If all of the Old Testament prophets, all of the kings of Judah and Israel, and all of the Twelve apostles had been from Levi, then we could build a pretty good case that God liked Levi a lot more than the other tribes.

  24. What Jack and Katie said, but the situation would be more comparable, if we said only Levites could experience the blessings and redemption that came from Temple worship.

  25. Frankly, it’s only because Jack and Tim are our friends that they’re making these more nuanced arguments on our behalf. As evangelicals, it would really easy for them to say, “Okay, it’s in your scripture,” and then go around declaring that Mormon scripture itself, instead of the interpretation thereof, is racist.

    One looks a heckuva lot worse than the other.

    I guess I’m just interested to learn why you are so invested in making the ban scriptural? Isn’t it better to have to readjust your expectations of a prophet — which, if the Biblical and historical record is accurate, is an adjustment that seems to me a lot more inline with reality anyway — than try and wrap your mind around the idea of a “loving” God who inexplicably denies major blessings to a whole group of people based on skin color? I’m not accusing you here, just trying to understand the worldview that would rather have the ban be of God than man.

  26. Garth, If the priesthood ban was a scriptural slam dunk – then why the prevalence of so many non-scriptural justifications (by Church Apostles no less)?

  27. David Clark: “So calling Mormons leaders on racism is nothing more than an attempt to cover up Evangelical anti-Mormonism? Nice. I’ve generally come to expect all sorts of border policing which prevents outsiders from discussing Mormon issues, but this one is really cute.”

    Yes, your bias in all of our “conversations” frequently causes you to misread and misunderstand; e.g., seeing border policing where there is none. Other than that, you could learn a lot from Katie L, who knows how to ask a real question and have a real conversation.

    Katie L: “you don’t think Tim has a good point that this is problematic for Romney?”

    No, and sort of. The point of Tim’s video, as I understood it, is not that the priesthood ban is a problem for Romney, but that it is The problem for Romney. Every poll I’ve read, and nearly all the interviews from anti-Romney folks, mentions something about Mormons believing in “a different Jesus” (a la Jeffress most recently) or that “Jesus and Satan are brothers” (see Huckabee in 2007). Very seldom do I hear anyone bring up the priesthood ban.

    “I really believe that an apology and some clarification from the brethren about why it happened would be *such* a healing step for us.”

    I completely agree. But I don’t think that’s what this is about—at least it’s not what my comment was about. It’s about whether or not Tim is correct about what Romney’s problem is.

    Tim: “I was about to light you up but I may be misreading your comment. You’re saying that I am attempting to disown the prejudice of my fellow Evangelicals?”

    I see little evidence that Evangelicals who say they won’t vote for a Mormon are doing the kind of thinking that you describe in your video. Maybe “disown” isn’t the right word. Maybe “justify” is better.

    Jack: “It’s a sad fact of our society that people simply do not care about discrimination against women the way they care about discrimination against blacks.”

    When I first commented, I wasn’t really interested in discussing the priesthood ban as much as I was interested in discussing Tim’s use of it to explain politics. When I thought about how to respond to him (and Katie), I thought of bringing up the much wider-spread inequality in the priesthood of Christian denominations. Then I saw that you beat me to it.

  28. Ah. I wasn’t saying that the priesthood ban is an issue for Evangelicals. I think that the problems Evangelicals have will evaporate when they decide to be pragmatic.

    The priesthood ban will be an issue for Romney in the general election when he’ll be trying to get the votes of every demographic, not just Republican primary voters.

  29. Also, I think your shots at DC are unjustified. He’s not being any more or any less abrasive than any other non-Mormon that comments here. He doesn’t deserve the dismissive responses you frequently throw his way. If I didn’t know better I would assume you feel threatened by his apostasy and I know that’s not the message you wish to communicate.

    Like all of us, he has a viewpoint and experience of Mormonism and like all of us he’s speaking out of that experience. I don’t think he’s being salacious. I’m not saying he should get a free ride here, but maybe you could avoid calling him a twerp when you respond to him.

  30. “FYI, the idea didn’t come from Mormon prophets. It came from antebellum Southern Protestant slaveholders who desperately needed a biblical justification for race-based slavery.”

    No, Southern Protestants continued a tradition that became popular in Europe in the late 16th early 17th century with the Spanish and Portuguese Slave trades and the Dutch colonies in South Africa. I don’t point this out to get Southerners off the hook but the stains of racism spread beyond the South.

  31. Thanks, Gundek. I figured that the idea might have gone back deeper than antebellum Protestantism, but my knowledge of historic racism largely stops outside of American history, and I got sloppy.

    The idea was certainly popularized in America by antebellum Protestant slaveholders though. It became their most commonly-cited biblical justification for slavery—which was kind of ironic, since it was also the weakest of their biblical arguments.

  32. A friend commented that I had R.L. Dabney on my book shelf. I explained that I read him because he represents a particular time in our history when our church lost its footing and forgot that humanity was made in the image of God. It is humbling to remember that God spoke of this and we ignored Him. As a Southern Presbyterian I believe it is important that we never forget how easy it is to try to explain away our sins by ignoring the obvious.

  33. Tim: If you think that I have misread David Clark’s intentions or been unfair to him then that is enough reason for me to change the way I respond to him in the future.

  34. I think the video brings up interesting questions about how anybody should deal with the unjust views of those who laid out their religion.

    In essence, saying that discrimination against women is justified by scripture is just as weak as the Garth’s Mormon justification for the priesthood ban. Many of the heroes of the Bible were rampantly racist and misogynist. I think there is, in fact, plenty of justification for racism and sexism in the Bible. Few interpret the bible this way because other, extra-biblical, reasoning and politics make these views (rightfully) anathemas to us post-modern democrats. Using the bible to support racism or misogyny is only a mis-use of the bible if those who wrote the bible didn’t intentionally include racism and misogyny in the text. That is actually a hard argument to make without some very positive revisionism.

    When you look at genocide and misogyny in the Bible can’t we ask any Christian who believes in its inerrancy, as Tim asks Romney, how to you “allow [such injustice] to invade the most sacred space in [your] life?” Should Christians and Jews be apologizing for the destruction of Jericho if Mormons need to apologize for the priesthood ban?

    Given all this, i can’t see how Romney’s stance is, in principle, any more of a problem than any other non-racist or non-sexist Christian. I think anybody as religious as Romney is going to have these same problems. The reason Romney has them more than others has more to do with the politics of the majority than any principle. Sexism is far less accepted than racism, but no American politician in her right mind is going to weigh in on whether women should be priests.

    Gay-baiting is still prevalent among both Mormons and Evangelicals in a way that race baiting and misogyny used to be. (Perry gets away with gay-baiting because Evangelicals are not willing to call him out on it because they generally support denying certain freedoms to that group.). Its hard to see how this is any more or less justified than the priesthood ban if you take rights, freedom and equality seriously.

  35. Given all this, i can’t see how Romney’s stance is, in principle, any more of a problem than any other non-racist or non-sexist Christian.

    It’s a problem because Mitt can’t be seen directly and publicly opposing the GAs on doctrinal or policy grounds (take your pick, it’s immaterial when it comes to excommunication), which is precisely what he needs to do to show leadership. And, the GA’s can’t be seen as acknowledging that one of the past presidents of the church was horribly wrong. That’s the quandry.

    This isn’t a problem for Protestants or even for Catholics. I lost track of how many popes were in hell while reading Dante’s Inferno. Putting a pope in hell is, ironically, a good Catholic thing to do. As a Protestant it’s even easier. For example, Martin Luther was an anti-semite and a colostomy bag when talking about Jews in his later writings. Print that out and make sure my pastor sees it, he isn’t going to care. Heck, print it out and send it to every executive officer of the UMC, including the conference Bishop. Nobody cares.

    If Mitt comes out and calls Brigham a racist there will be hell to pay. Perhaps not for Mitt, after all he’s a public figure and the LDS church doesn’t want a public fight over that one. But, you now will have a very public figure on record criticizing the brethren with zero consequences. That’s a precedent I don’t think the LDS church leadership wants to deal with.

  36. Lisabe called "The Teflon President" because liberals would try anything to make him look bad, but "nothing would stick." Fast forward to Bill Clinton. Back in those days it was my turn to be outraged. Bill Clinton was forgiven for alot of things in his P on said:

    Jared, I agree with what you have said in your comment above. My opinion is, if this topic does become an issue–the Romney campaign will be well equipped to deal with it. If it becomes necessary, you can expect to hear from African Americans who served under Romney when he was an official in his ward. I am also in agreement with those who have noted that, there is not that much difference between 1968, and 1978. The autoworker in Detroit who has lost his/her job, the millions of people across the country who have lost their homes to foreclosure, these people want answers to their problems. I first became politically active in 1984. My liberal friends in college hated Ronald Reagan. They could not understand why he kept winning. He used to

  37. Lisabe called "The Teflon President" because liberals would try anything to make him look bad, but "nothing would stick." Fast forward to Bill Clinton. Back in those days it was my turn to be outraged. Bill Clinton was forgiven for alot of things in his P on said:

    My comment got screwed up, and I don’t really feel like retyping it. The point I was trying to make was: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all had “likeability.” They were able to convince independents and moderates of both parties that they had the answers and solutions that were necessary for the time. The fact that three different candidates have all come very close to Romney indicates that he has not yet “sealed the deal.” I do not believe the moderates and independents whose votes are needed to win the general election will care that much about the issue in this video. To be sure, some voters will care very much, and I can’t deny that Romney will probably lose some votes over it, but I don’t believe it will be enough to matter. Ultimately, I believe that if Romney fails in this campaign, it will be because of his own weaknesses as a candidate, not because of any affiliation with the LDS church or any policy/doctrine/whatever that has been espoused by said church in the past.

  38. David Clark: Yes, Joshua from the bible.

    The Pope is not comparable to a biblical prophet. Most Mormons nowadays will claim the prophet is on par with biblical prophets, not “mere” ecclesiastical leaders.

  39. What did Joshua do? I assume you mean the genocide in the Book of Joshua? All the archaeological evidence points in the direction that it never happened, so I don’t know why I would condemn someone for something that didn’t happen (cue inerrantists condemning me to hell now).

    The Pope is not comparable to a biblical prophet.

    True.

    Most Mormons nowadays will claim the prophet is on par with biblical prophets, not “mere” ecclesiastical leaders.

    Which of course is why many people are worried, rightly or wrongly, that Mitt will get marching orders from Salt Lake City. Showing some independence and challenging them for obvious mistakes would go a long way towards dispelling that notion. But, I don’t think Mitt’s going to do that. That Russert interview Tim linked to is probably Mitt’s final answer on the whole issue, but notice he goes out of his way to not even answer Russert’s question because to directly answer Russert’s question would involve either 1) Directly opposing past church doctrine/policy or 2) Looking like a tool.

  40. One other comment about the LDS seeing the current president of the LDS church as on par with biblical prophets. I think that’s precisely backwards. They see the biblical prophets as they see the current LDS president. The LDS president (at least nowadays) is president/prophet by definition, not by any prophetic action. Deference is expected and demanded because of a neat and tidy succession, not because he was truly called of God (yes, I know that Mormons see living the longest as being proof of God’s choice, but there is no necessary connection).

    In the Bible it was much messier. False prophets and true prophets would both show up and you had to choose. There was no prophet credentialing agency nor was there a claim that a person was a prophet because they had been a member of X quorum for Y years, where Y is bigger than the number of years of any other member of quorum X. Thus you don’t see prophets demanding deference because of their office. They demanded obedience to God, or God was going to be pissed. But you had to choose because there were both false and true prophets going around (see the book of Jeremiah for examples). “Following the prophet” was as much rejecting the false ones as it was listening to the true ones.

    But LDS ecclesiology eliminates that existential choice. There can be no false prophet in the LDS church, provided he is also president of the LDS church. It’s tidy and comforting, but doesn’t reflect reality. You simply can’t guarantee inspiration and calling through a tidy succession process. But because it’s defined to be that way, it’s hard to condemn Brigham Young as mistaken in the slightest because by definition, he was a true prophet.

  41. Jared, I think this is why the policy/doctrine distinction is important.

    I assume almost anyone who reads these comments will agree that the Koran’s prescription for how to carry out Jihad against infidels is wrong. But it’s also doctrine. If I wanted to provoke a Muslim candidate over that issue I would have to go after his faith. I’d have to get into all of the reasons his faith and his scriptures are inappropriate.

  42. Pingback: 7 Reasons Why Mitt’s A Misfit | American Heirs

  43. One other comment about the LDS seeing the current president of the LDS church as on par with biblical prophets. I think that’s precisely backwards. They see the biblical prophets as they see the current LDS president.

    This is VERY true.

  44. If I could summarize one of the main arguments in the original post, it would be this: Before 1978, the LDS church had a racist policy, and Mitt Romney, by virtue of his position, supported racism and therefore needs to a) apologize for supporting racism, and b) tell the LDS church to apologize.

    My reaction: Romney has nothing to apologize for, or to be more precise, I’m not aware of anything in the public record that suggests he has anything to apologize for in this area. (For what it’s worth, I say this as someone who has no intent of supporting Romney for president, and also as someone who believes that the policy developed as a result of the racist culture at the time.)

    It’s easy with 20/20 hindsight to say that Romney should have done this before 1978, or he should have done that, that it’s not enough that before 1978 he hoped for a change in church policy and rejoiced when it happens. But I see nothing in the record to suggest he was in a position to bring change in the church policy, nor that he didn’t act in accordance with his stated beliefs that blacks are God’s children as much as white persons are. We all have to choose our battles, and I see no need to fault Romney for living out his faith as he did and not choose institutional racism as his battle.

    It makes sense to assume that Mitt’s views on race were shaped by his father, George, who, we’ve been told, openly welcomed the 1978 revelation. If I had been in a position in the 1960s and ’70s to advise George Romney on how he could change the church’s policy, I would have advised him do to exactly what he did: He was an outspoken supporter of civil rights at a time where being so wasn’t universally accepted in the Republican Party, and he was criticized for his role by politicians in his own party as well as by some in the LDS church hierarchy. Any objective observer would say that changing public perspectives on race are ultimately what led to the 1978 revision/revelation, and George Romney played a small part in that. I know of nothing that indicates Mitt Romney didn’t share his father’s values against racial prejudice.

    As to whether the church itself should apologize: I don’t know. Basically, I’m not impressed by apologies for what other people did. I’m satisfied that the past policy has been repudiated, and that’s what’s important to me. At the April 2006 General Conference, President Gordon Hinckley said:

    I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

    If that’s not a repudiation of the church’s policy for more than a century, I’m not sure what would be.

    As to whether Romney should tell the LDS church to apologize: I fail to see how that’s Romney’s job. He’s a political leader, not an ecclesiastical one.

  45. Tim: “The priesthood ban will be an issue for Romney in the general election when he’ll be trying to get the votes of every demographic, not just Republican primary voters.”

    Why do you think this will be a significant problem in the general election for president when it (apparently) was not in his run for governor of Massachusetts? (Or, prior to that, a strong albeit ultimately unsuccessful senate run against Kennedy?)

  46. Eric, to clarify my position (I know your comments weren’t directed specifically at me, but they made me want to be more clear): I don’t think that Romney has anything to personally apologize for either — the ban wasn’t his idea. But I think it would be strong if he chose to explicitly repudiate it. Something along the lines of: “It was wrong, it shouldn’t have happened.”

    I also agree that he doesn’t need to demand that the church apologize. But if he openly repudiated the ban, it would apply a lot of external pressure that might just force us to finally deal with this issue once and for all. While I love the remarks of President Hinckley that you posted, and they are a wonderful step in the right direction, they still do not directly address the ban itself.

    Of course, it’s possible that Romney doesn’t believe the ban was wrong. I know lots of Mormons who take this position. They don’t like that the ban happened, but believe it must have been necessary in some inexplicable way. I don’t agree (though I believe it was probably inevitable given the unquestioned racism of the time). This is why I favor a public, explicit apology from the church — it would do away with ambiguous notions that the ban was somehow God’s will once and for all.

  47. Jared, I think this is why the policy/doctrine distinction is important.

    I assume almost anyone who reads these comments will agree that the Koran’s prescription for how to carry out Jihad against infidels is wrong. But it’s also doctrine. If I wanted to provoke a Muslim candidate over that issue I would have to go after his faith. I’d have to get into all of the reasons his faith and his scriptures are inappropriate.

    I think there are two questions. (1) Practically, will this problem hurt Romney and (2) How should Romney (or any other believer) personally respond to some unjust policy or doctrine propounded by devively selected leaders/prophets.

    As to the first, I think Romney’s dodge will satisfy those that can be satisfied, which is the majority of Republicans and independents. American politicians are rarely held to everything their church believes or teaches.

    The issue you bring up underscores the a nexus between doctrine and policy in Mormonism when it comes to supporting the decisions of the leadership. It is Mormon doctrine to support the leadership in the policies they set. It seems Romney, like most Mormons, believes that the leadership can make mistakes or have questionable policies but the church is still true. Thus, even if he believes that the policy is wrong, he cannot remain strong in the faith without supporting the leadership. That is being a good Mormon.

    My contention is that an LDS person openly contradicting the church leadership or apologizing for a policy is like an Evangelical contradicting a biblical prophet or writer, or apologizing for a biblical event. To fault Romney for not apologizing and denouncing the church for that is most similar to faulting the inerrantist for not denouncing and apologizing for Joshua’s slaughter in Canaan. Believing that Joshua’s genocidal campaign was ordered by God is part of being a good bible believer, at least from the Evangelical perspective. Most people dodge these questions in the way Romney does.

  48. I don’t think Obama will not play the race card personally. Of course I can imagine Tim’s video being remade as some sort of swift-boats-esque sort of PAC ad.

  49. Why would an “Evangelical contradicting a biblical prophet or writer, or apologizing for a biblical event” be a problem, when there are quite a few examples of the Bible itself presenting the actions of prophets and apostles in a negative light?

  50. I’m not asking Romney to apologize for the formation of the policy. I’m asking him to apologize for his part in carrying it out.

    In talking with others I’m generally flummoxed that people think an apology as an act of Christian faith might not be a good idea. How is an apology ever harmful?

  51. Apology is a good thing.

    “We are convinced that we, as Reformed Christians, have failed to speak and act boldly in the area of race relations. Our denominational profiles reveal patterns of ethnic and racial homogeneity. We believe that this situation fails to give adequate expression to the saving purposes of our sovereign God, whose covenant extends to all peoples and races. We are convinced that our record in this crucial area is one of racial brokenness and disobedience. In such a situation the credibility of our Reformed witness, piety and doctrinal confession is at stake. We have not lived out the implications of that biblical and confessional heritage which we hold in common with each other, with its emphasis on the sovereignty and freedom of grace, on the absence of human merit in gaining salvation, and on the responsibility to subject all of life to the Lordship of Christ.” 1977

  52. “In talking with others I’m generally flummoxed that people think an apology as an act of Christian faith might not be a good idea. How is an apology ever harmful?”

    Apology here is an interesting concept. An apology is only helpful when it is sincere and comes from a responsible party. Otherwise it is either meaningless or duplicitous.

    What you are asking for is Romney to apologize for his actions in following the policy of his Church, which he was required to do under the principles of the Church. He could have been excommunicated for ordaining a black man (or woman) to the priesthood. Personally, I don’t think Romney can apologize for his part in the priesthood ban without undermining his commitment to the LDS church as a divinely lead institution. Any apology would be disingenuous if he was not sorry for following the leadership of the church.

    This would be similar to asking an immigration official to apologize for carrying out a selective and/or unjust immigration policy of his government, but otherwise was fair and just in his treatment of aliens. That sort of behavior doesn’t seem to call for a public apology, and the immigration official’s respect for the law he has to enforce doesn’t seem to be worthy of blame. The immigration official doesn’t seem to have any fault by carrying out his duty to uphold the law, even when it is unfair.

    Of course there may be cases where we should assign blame to foot soldiers, I just don’t see this as one of those cases.

  53. Also, it seems your distinction of policy and doctrine is problematic.

    When it comes to the priesthood ban, the distinction is cloudy at best. Labeling the priesthood ban “policy” has been a way for members of the church to feel good about the practice, even though those who instituted the practice clearly believed that it had “doctrinal foundations”
    However, it is difficult to meaningfully distinguish policy from doctrine in such cases. It could be argued that how the church administers saving ordinances is ALWAYS doctrinal at some level (even if the doctrine in question is sustaining the whims of the president of the church.)

    Should churches apologize for not allowing women as leaders, when they believe the bible supports the position? It seems strange to say “I’m sorry I am doing something it says we should do in the Bible, which is the word of God.” in the same way it is strange to say” I am sorry for supporting the leaders of my church, whom I believe have authority from God.

    Also, why would Paul be immune from requests for apology for the unjust policies his writings engendered?

  54. One thing I find interesting in discussions of this nature: a complete lack of any reference to how blacks themselves felt about the church during the time of the Priesthood ban. After all, we are not talking about a church that had no blacks in it; quite the opposite.

    While one experience I had is definitely far from robust results, I am constantly reminded of the conversation I had with an older black couple in one of my wards in southern California during my mission. They had been converts to the church in the 60s, and were very active (and still are, as far as I know). They told me that they prayed often for the Lord to allow blacks to hold the Priesthood, but, in the meantime, they actively participated in every way they could. Neither shared any bitterness or anger toward the Priesthood ban.

    I suppose you could make parallels to the number of women who don’t care at all that women don’t hold the Priesthood. Like I said, I don’t have a vast body of work, just an anecdote. But it seems to me that if people of African descent were okay with being members of a church that denied them access to the Priesthood, then there must have been something more to the church than is let on.

    Also, just out of curiosity, Tim, do you have any evidence that Romney turned away black families that sought to be sealed in the temple or black men who asked for the Priesthood? Unless the culture of the LDS church was a LOT different in the 60s and 70s than it is now, I have doubts that that would have even happened.

  55. One thing I find interesting in discussions of this nature: a complete lack of any reference to how blacks themselves felt about the church during the time of the Priesthood ban

    I recently finished reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and I can’t tell you how I’ve come to hate this line of reasoning. There were plenty of black slaves who would tell you how well their master’s treated them and how they were being engendered with a better lifestyle than they could have mustered on their own. Just because you can find some blacks who didn’t have a problem with it doesn’t make it right.

    Also I can find black Mormons who did have a problem with it. If I find more in opposition than in favor does that mean the LDS church will do the right thing and offer an apology? Is that all the leadership is waiting for? If changing a policy is the right thing to do, it should be done for it’s own sake.

    Also, just out of curiosity, Tim, do you have any evidence that Romney turned away black families that sought to be sealed in the temple or black men who asked for the Priesthood?

    No I have no evidence of any specific incident about anything Romney did in the 1970′s.

  56. Jared,

    Do you believe that any Mormon who apologizes for the priesthood ban is undermining their commitment to the LDS church?

  57. For who are public leaders, such as Romney’s position, at some level, yes. If the church is true, you can’t apologize for what God sanctioned without distancing yourself from the Church.

  58. Jared C said to Tim:

    Also, it seems your distinction of policy and doctrine is problematic.

    When it comes to the priesthood ban, the distinction is cloudy at best.

    Especially since in 1949 the First Presidency said the ban was a matter of doctrine and not policy.

    The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.

    Statement of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, August 17, 1949.

    Source: http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/sperry-symposium-classics-doctrine-and-covenants/23-official-declaration–2-revelation-pries

  59. “For who are public leaders, such as Romney’s position, at some level, yes. If the church is true, you can’t apologize for what God sanctioned without distancing yourself from the Church.”

    Actually, any Mormon that apologizes for the ban would distance herself for the core beliefs. It would be like apologizing for not baptizing 7-year-olds or ordaining women. You cannot admit you were wrong for following the leaders of the church without undermining your public commitment to the church.

  60. Eric, I’m more than willing to hear the argument that it was doctrine not policy. I just need the First Presidency, or whoever else is making that argument, to show me where in LDS scripture it says that all people of African descent should be denied the priesthood.

    If that can’t be shown, the it seems like a rhetorical dodge that puts the blame on God without backing it up.

  61. Tim — I’m not arguing that the practice was doctrine, only that the First Presidency said it was, nor am I in any way defending it. I agree that the practice was totally unscriptural. Also, there is no known record of a revelation received.

    It’s also pretty easy to show that the 1949 statement is demonstrably false, since Joseph Smith ordained at least one black man to the priesthood.

  62. Tim: You know from experience that it’s very difficult to identify—”nail down,” as you like to put it—almost any LDS doctrine. You also know that LDS reject the idea that something has to be in our canon in order to be true, or from God. Why should this issue be any different?

  63. And maybe I should clarify that, like Eric, I’m not defending the ban. But I will defend the average member’s response the ban at the time—viewing it as doctrine from God—because with the information they had, that was the simplest and most straightforward interpretation of what the First Presidency was allowing.

  64. This all seems like a chess game to me, where “official doctrine” is not the rule of the game, but rather a piece used strategically in some games, sacrificed or neglected in others. The queen—continuing revelation—sometimes gets herself into trouble, so she is sacrificed to protect the king—the legitimacy of the priesthood authority. The pawns are the members, who take the queen much more seriously than the king does. They are used however needed to protect the queen and the king. The rooks are BYU professors, and the knights are LDS apologists. They do whatever it takes to protect the king, but they’re willing to sacrifice their own queen sometimes.

  65. This all seems like a chess game to me, where “official doctrine” is not the rule of the game, but rather a piece in the game used strategically

    Now you are catching on.

    Like I said previously, I did expect there to be complaints that Tim chose the FAIR style “it was a policy” explanation over the more traditional “it was a doctrine” explanation. But this thread has been quite surprising in that people want to play both sides on this one. It was really a policy, but they thought it was a doctrine, so they thought they had to have a revelation, but we now know that it was a policy, so we didn’t really need a revelation, but it’s nice to have a revelation, but we really didn’t need it because God didn’t really command the policy, which is a good thing because then God doesn’t look stupid, but when they thought it was doctrine God didn’t look stupid because everyone was a redneck racist in those days, and don’t we all have a redneck racist in our past, and if we all have a redneck racist in our past we can all overlook the redneck racist, didn’t Jesus say suffer the redneck racists to come unto me, etc.

    Got it, crystal clear, and: No apology.

  66. Eric, do you agree that if the statement by the 1949 First Presidency can be shown to be false, that it is a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain?

  67. I know there is a common belief that the church can never be led astray by the prophet, but I think this is an example of where that is simply not true, even in matters of salvation.

    Salvation comes in part from participation in all of the temple ordinances and that was denied and revoked from Black members. We don’t have any evidence that this was a doctrinal decision based on scripture. All we have are common racist sentiments from the era being restated and roped into a church policy of discrimination.

  68. The ban was inevitable but wrong. It’s unfair to condemn the people who enacted it based on contemporary standards of justice and equality. We can have compassion for the sin and understand why it happened and why it persisted for so long. We don’t have to get on our high-horses of judgment and make broad, sweeping conclusions about the character of the people involved or the level of their connection with God.

    We all do really crappy things WITHOUT EVEN MEANING TO (which, I believe, is what this was: an unintentional crappy thing) — even people called of God at the very highest levels.

    It’s what it means to be a human being.

    At the same time, now that we know better, it is right for there to be repentance.

    As Mormons, we are very hesitant to confess institutional sin because we still believe we have to apologize for and justify our existence to the world. We have projected this fear onto God and mistakenly believe we must always be “right” and “worthy” to be chosen of Him. That’s unfortunate, as I have never seen anything in scripture, nor in my personal experience with God, that requires such a consistent rightness and worthiness. It seems to me like God is constantly choosing people despite their pitiful unworthiness and creating beauty and greatness out of the messes we make all over the place. What a wonderful, merciful God! What an unnecessary burden we put upon ourselves!

    So I have empathy for why this will be a singularly difficult thing for us to heal from. The pain it will cause breaks me up inside to think about. I pray we do it anyway, and advocate for it anyway, because this will continue to stain and haunt us until we face it head on.

  69. I agree with you that there are understandable reasons for this to have happened in the 1840′s.

    But our standards for justice and equality were in place in 1977. I’m not casting presentism on Brigham Young. I’m casting it on my contemporary, Mitt Romney.

  70. Tim, I think there are completely understandable reasons for it to have persisted as long as it did, and for why Romney responded however *he* did. It’s less excusable in 1977 (if sin is ever excusable), but it’s certainly understandable. People are not that mysterious.

    Remember: I’m not making excuses here. I yearn and advocate for repentance. But “you should have known better” is something we could say to every sinner…including the one staring back at us in the mirror each morning. Of course they should have known better. We should all know better. Can I still be loving and compassionate in the face of people doing things they should know better about? That’s the question I try to ask myself when I’m confronted with these sorts of terrible human conundrums.

    David, I think it was inevitable given the combination of personalities involved (i.e. Brigham Young) and the prevailing, unquestioned racism of the day. Also, because it happened. :-)

  71. Katie: I’m sure I’m not reading you right. Just above, it seems that you’re saying you think this was a sin on the part of Romney (and other local leaders who enforced the Church’s policies). But previously, it sounded like you don’t think he sinned: “I don’t think that Romney has anything to personally apologize for either — the ban wasn’t his idea. But I think it would be strong if he chose to explicitly repudiate it. Something along the lines of: “It was wrong, it shouldn’t have happened.””

    Help me understand your position.

  72. Thanks for the chance to clarify, Brian.

    I think the sin is primarily on the shoulders of the top leadership and it was of them primarily that I spoke when I referred to sin. That point is somewhat separate from my comment that it is easy to see both why the ban was created, how it came to persist, and why people like Romney responded the way they did (even if they are not primarily culpable).

    My comment probably could have more clearly read:

    Tim, I think there are completely understandable reasons for why the ban persisted as long as it did, as well as for why Romney responded however *he* did. Institutional prejudice is less excusable in 1977 (if such sin is ever excusable), but it’s certainly understandable. People are not that mysterious.

    Of course, if you wanted to be really strict about it, you could make an argument that all Mormons, including Romney, have some level of responsibility for this — that we are all tainted with its stain. Similarly, you could argue that comparatively wealthy Americans (read: all of us) are in some ways responsible for the world’s poverty, or that we contribute to injustice or cruelty every time we shop at Wal-Mart or bank at a large conglomerates or consume beef raised in factory-like slaughterhouses.

    I am actually not opposed to that idea — though there’s really no way to avoid it. To me, this is part of what it means to be Fallen. We are in a Fallen world, and as a result we sin and contribute to sin in ways we can’t even see, let alone control.

  73. Tim, I am not speaking in support of the ban. I am making an observation that I see a group that consists primarily (if not completely) of white Americans (I’m not 100% certain of this, so if I am incorrect, I will recant) talking about an issue that about none of us personally experienced: being denied the Priesthood because of race. I find that interesting.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a topic worth discussing. I just felt that it was worthwhile to think that there were men and women of African descent who chose to join the LDS church, despite the Priesthood ban. On the other hand, I don’t think there were any Africans who chose to become slaves in America, although there were those who did not feel any desire to end it..

  74. In an earlier comment, Alex raised one of the objections that came to my mind as well when I initially watched the video. The case here is an interesting one, but I think for it to really take off, we’d need to know precisely whether Romney in fact did enforce any racist policies (whether doctrinally rooted or otherwise) during his time as a bishop or stake president. If he did, then it seems that this could be a somewhat reasonable liability. Otherwise, though, he could probably distance himself rather successfully from the priesthood ban and associated doctrines/policies. I do wonder whether the Obama campaign or its supporters would be inclined to pursue this angle if Romney gets the Republican nomination (as I’ve personally come to hope he does). That, I think, is just as much a critical point in the matter.

  75. tim said:

    But our standards for justice and equality were in place in 1977.

    Hmm. yes, they were in place but God did not necessarily care about them. His standards are obviously not our standards. I doubt any christian religion would stand up to and exacting examination of the justice of their beliefs and history by modern liberal standards. Where in the bible does it denounce racism and misogyny in a way that would satisfy a modern western liberal?

    I think the modern liberal can apply these sorts of standards of justice, but how can the modern liberal satisfactorily judge the way God rolls out the gospel or the church? It just seems a strange criticism in principle for someone who takes the bible seriously to make. Romney believes that God leads the LDS church. The LDS church had a very solid policy/doctrine/whatever of denying blacks leadership in the church which was fully supported by the leadership. Brigham Young is no different than Paul remember. Recognizing the failure to lift the priesthood ban as sin is the same as recognizing Paul’s unequal treatment of women as a sin. Do any Evangelicals see Paul this way?

    And Blacks who believe the church is true would essentially have to accept the ban as non-sin. The explanation that I was generally taught was that the priesthood ban was because the members were not wiling to accept blacks and that it would have hindered the growth of the church, etc. I don’t necessarily buy this, or any other, explanation. But some sort of explanation that falls short of sinfulness of the leadership is necessary if you are going to continue to believe that the church is true in the way that most Mormons proclaim it to be. Clearly the leadership doesn’t and didn’t recognize the ban as sin, even if everyone was happy to see it go.

  76. But some sort of explanation that falls short of sinfulness of the leadership is necessary if you are going to continue to believe that the church is true in the way that most Mormons proclaim it to be.

    I don’t agree, but this gets into that “nuanced vs. black and white” view of prophetic leadership conversation we’ve had 90,000 times on this site already, so why have it again? ;-)

    Clearly the leadership doesn’t and didn’t recognize the ban as sin

    I think that’s probably a fair assessment.

  77. I just realized that you might be trying to articulate where someone like Romney is coming from. In that case, I agree that’s a common perspective, and likely even his.

  78. Well, I think the nuanced view of leadership is all well and good. I have always been that way. But the more nuanced you get, the more you move from the core of the church. i.e. you move into the group that doesn’t feel totally comfortable with expressing their real views very openly or explicitly in church meetings.

  79. so what you’re saying Jared is that for the average member, like Romney, there is no difference between doctrine and policy. The only people who might have that distinction are the 15 top guys. Even apologist who suggest policy rather than doctrine are functionally viewing all policies as doctrines.

  80. Katie — I appreciated your posts of yesterday.

    Tim said:

    so what you’re saying Jared is that for the average member, like Romney, there is no difference between doctrine and policy.

    What I’ve heard most often from “average” members is that the distinction between policy and doctrine is that the former can be changed, and/or that policy is designed to implement doctrine, so that the way we carry out our doctrine can change with circumstances even if what we believe doesn’t.

    As a practical matter, though, policy is typically viewed to be as inspired as doctrine. So while the average member may view the definition of immodesty to include a woman wearing more than one earring per ear (no, I’m not making this up) and see that as a policy, it is still seen as every bit as binding as our doctrine that promotes modesty as a virtue.

    Because the practice of excluding men of African ancestry is no longer in force, I think that today that the “average” member would view that as a policy (which can change) rather than a past doctrine (which wouldn’t change if it were truly a doctrine). But he/she would still see it as an inspired policy, so I’m not sure what, in practice, the distinction is between the two.

    Another historical note: According to his biography based in part on personal records, President David O. McKay, the 1949 statement notwithstanding, did not believe that the priesthood ban was based on revelation, but he believed that it would take a revelation to change it. He began preparing the Church for such a revelation, and instituted policies that, in all likelihood, allowed some men of African descent to be ordained (as long as they didn’t know for sure if they had African ancestry).

    And other historical note: In 2004, a black California pastor, Cecil Murray met privately with President Gordon Hinckley, and Murray reported later that Hinckley apologized to him for the role that the Church played in fostering discrimination against blacks. There has been no acknowledgment from the Church, however, of what Hinckley told the pastor.

  81. Tim- I essentially agree withe Eric.

    The issue behind the priesthood ban is about how the Church decides to roll out the restoration through the world, i.e. what policy they will use. There are plenty of policy decisions, but to say that they are worthy of apology by the rank and file flies in the face of how the church sees itself and how most members see the church.

    As a priesthood holder in the church, it is considered your sacred duty to support those that hold the keys. Apologizing for performing this duty is an acquiescence that you should have been rebellious or disobedient and that the leaders were leading you astray. I am not a Republican, and wouldn’t support Romney over Obama, but I would lose a ton of respect for Romney if he apologized for the priesthood ban before the Church did. It would seem like blatant pandering or dishonesty because I can’t imagine that Romney is sorry for supporting the leadership.

    The doctrine is that the leadership has the keys will make these policy decisions and the leadership should be supported, even when they could do it better. So perhaps there is a distinction between doctrine and policy, but obedience is a foundational doctrine. The Church is like a military in this way. I am not saying that Mormons consider it “evil” to publically apologize for church leaders, and you can generally remain in good standing. But It shows that you don’t take the church and its claims as seriously as the church does . For example, It was policy for the saints to leave Nauvoo and policy for the church to STOP practicing polygamy. Those that did not come to Utah may have been Mormons in good standing, but they were not at the core of the church when the established policy was gathering.

    Another example, like the earring example Eric brings up, it is policy that you cannot get into the temple if you drink coffee, not doctrine, but if you want to be a “good member of the church” you are going to support the policy, until it is changed. You are not going to hell for it, and God may not care very much, but you are distancing yourself from the core of the church.

    Romney apologizing for following the leadership on this would be like him drinking coffee. Doctrinally it would trivial, but it would show that he is not as committed to the church as I think he is.

    I think there is also a distinction between disagreeing with a policy and apologizing for it.
    An apology for your leaders is a backhanded condemnation of their leadership.

  82. Tim asked: “so what you’re saying Jared is that for the average member, like Romney, there is no difference between doctrine and policy.”

    Eric brings up a good point in response: “President David O. McKay, the 1949 statement notwithstanding, did not believe that the priesthood ban was based on revelation, but he believed that it would take a revelation to change it.”

    And that’s exactly the sort of thing that members got: the 1978 Official Declaration which was specifically introduced and described as a revelation.

    In contrast, matters of policy are changed all the time with nothing more than a letter read from the pulpit at sacrament meeting. For example, changing the length of time couples serve missions, the creation of a new fund on the tithing and donations slip, or a change in how wards finance youth programs.

    That said, I still don’t think it’s right to label the priesthood ban as either “policy” or “doctrine.” I think those terms confuse the real issue, which Eric gets at above.

  83. That said, I still don’t think it’s right to label the priesthood ban as either “policy” or “doctrine.”

    What should one call it? And please, no scare quotes if at all possible.

  84. Sorry, I didn’t mean those as scare quotes, but I know that’s often what quotes signify on the internet. They were meant as regular quotes.

    What should one call it? I’m not sure. A big part of the problem is that how one views it now is different from how one would have viewed it in the 60s; it’d be nice if the term we use for it didn’t change. Ultimately, I don’t really care what label one puts on it—Katie offers a good suggestion—but I think in this discussion that Tim’s desire to distinguish between doctrine and policy is clouding the issue (especially because he makes very light of policies, as though they are always trivial like when to meet or what instrument to play).

    The issues in Tim’s video should be less about what the ban was and more about what members of the Church thought it was—and even more importantly, where members of the Church thought it came from (i.e., from ignorantly racist former Church leaders or from God or whatever). Which is why I said that Eric gets at the real issue: inspiration/revelation.

    Tim began with the argument that it was only a policy, not a doctrine. Most people on all sides of this debate will agree that the ban was not instituted by Joseph Smith, was not rooted in any canon, was inherited and carried out by later leaders (some of whom questioned it but many did not), was subsequently reinforced through countless post hoc explanations (which, no doubt, took on a doctrinal quality), only to be ended and undermined by Church leaders disavowing or disagreeing with those explanations. In other words, it was a mere policy, then a doctrine, then…what? In fact, it was all of these, so giving it just one label over-simplifies the situation or even misses the point.

  85. Good discussion above.
    Here is my take on the whole thing. There have been 5 major civil rights struggles in the USA.

    1) The struggle for racial equality.
    2) The struggle for sexual equality.
    3) The struggle for legal equality for minority religions.
    4) The struggle for gay rights, and in general the rights of persons to live a lifestyle free of state / structural discrimination for personal lifestyle choices.
    5) The struggle for equality of class.

    We’ll contrast mainstream evangelicals, baptists (southern baptist) and Mormons.

    1–race) On race Mormons were a bit later. On the other hand the KKK and the various Jim Crow laws wasn’t a bunch of martians. While Mormons engaged in some levels of discrimination I have a hard time seeing anyone from the mainstream churches of the south being able to make a strong case. Mormons were pretty good on Indian civil rights in the mid 19th century relative to most other conservative churches. So Southern Baptists — bad, Mormons — poor, mainstream evangelicals mixed from bad to good.

    There aren’t Quakers like Nixon running in the primaries anymore. Most all the churches represented have pretty terrible records on civil rights, and as mentioned George Romney had a pretty strong record so I think Mitt is fine. As an aside Utah went dem in 1964, Mormons were not opposed to civil rights.

    2 — sex) All of them have been bad. No meaningful difference.

    3–religion) Funny enough Mormons are not great here, when it doesn’t come to them. Baptists who are terrible on race are very good on this one. Mainstream evangelicals both northern and southern have been the worst. So Southern Baptist — good, Mormons — fair, mainstream evangelicals — poor.

    4–alternative lifestyle) Here the idea of salvation as an individual choice and not a societal condition really plays a role. Mormons and Evangelicals are bad while Southern Baptists are fair.

    5–class) Most Americans are pretty good here. The Republican party is arguably trying to advance class based discrimination. Mormons, evangelicals and southern baptists are all over the map on class issues depending on where they are. This is one of the civil rights issues where conservatives might have a slight edge on liberals.

    I just don’t see Romney having that much to apologize for. Lots of Republicans hold views there churches would have rejected 40,50, 60 years ago. How many Catholic politicians reject the church’s position the death penalty? Both Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden not only reject the Pope’s position on abortion but have questioned his understanding on theological grounds? Michelle Bachman had to quit her church (WELS) right before the election because of its strong stands. She is still a dominionist while attending Bob Merritt’s church.

    I don’t see anything particularly unique about Romney’s problem here. Romney belongs to a religions which holds that God directly instructs the leadership. In 1977 there were no instructions in 1978 there were. Barack Obama incidentally belongs to a church that believes that God through the mechanism of the Holy Spirit is capable of instructing the church in new ways, “God is still speaking” is one of their slogans.

    The big issue for Romney is not going to be what he failed to do in 1977, but rather what he is doing in 2012
    – with regard to gays while being an active spokesperson for example is advocacy of maintaining don’t ask / don’t tell.
    – with regard to hispanics with his strongly anti-hispanic policies
    – Catholics are evidentially quite offended by what is perceived as, the attack on Gingrich’s conversion.

    etc…

  86. I’m certainly no defender of LDS false prophets and their past mistakes like the priesthood ban. But this post is more than a stretch. Romney has never held a profession church post. His service as a Bishop and Stake President were both after 1978. It seems very unlikely Romney was ever in a position to administer the priesthood ban.

    Not mentioned here is we now know removing the ban was debated among top LDS leaders for a couple of decades before the ban was finally lifted. We know President McKay labeled it a policy, not a doctrine, facilitating a future lifting of the ban. My personal opinion is the revelation Kimball was praying for was that the hearts of holdout apostles would be softened so that the church could move on from this past error with unanimous consent of all general authorities. In any case it’s pretty clear Kimball didn’t receive a revelation in the way most LDS defenders seem to state.

  87. Members of the church in administrative positions have far less freedom to vary from the policy of the church than to express virtually any opinion on doctrine. In other words, even if Romney completely and utterly disagreed with the policy, even if he shared that opinion with others, he would not be in a position to violate it without facing a list of consequences that would include having any ordinations he made contrary to policy nullified, immediate release, and possibly church discipline.

    The doctrine vs. policy issue is only material to the people who make the policy. For everyone else, policy is simply a reflection of how top leaders of the church interpret the doctrines, and they are binding at every level of church administration until they are changed. People can do what they want on their own time, but administratively speaking the LDS church is a unitary church, and no one invents their own policies contrary to those of the church as a whole.

    About the only thing that Romney could have effectively done is wait for a real case, and then ask his priesthood superiors if a change might be coming for the benefit of the individual concerned. He may well have done that.

  88. “Or choose not to participate”

    I’ve often thought about what I would have done had I been older during the ban era. Obviously, it is impossible to know, so I can’t take my feelings now as any kind of judgment upon how people then chose to deal with it—I recognize that I am, just as they were, to some degree a product of my time/environment.

  89. The people who walked over objections to no women or anti-gay stuff are the ones who at the time would have walked over the bans on blacks. Discrimination has its defenders until it is prohibited then it is so obviously gravely immoral that no one would have supported it, and it is inexcusable it was the rule in the first place. No one can understand how anyone could ever have believed it.

    I always recommend Dabney’s A Defense of Virginia; it really helps in seeing the current arguments in their proper context to read one of America’s greatest theologians arguing why slavery was biblical and abolitionism a grave sin. How racial slavery is part of the very nature of humanity and beneficial to everyone but especially to the lesser races.

    Talk to people who serve the church today with its rules against gays, even though they feel uncomfortable about it; or serve with rules against women even though they feel uncomfortable about it. Change the words slightly, and those are the justifications they would have used a generation and a half ago for blacks.

  90. “Or choose not to participate in the leadership of the faith”.

    Romney wasn’t ever a bishop or a stake president until years after the restriction was ended. He was a missionary, and apparently an effective one too. Does participating as part of a college age missionary force measured in the tens of thousands implicate you in the “leadership” of the faith? Maybe, but that is kind of silly.

  91. I just ran into this online on the slavery issue: this is from 1859:

    H.G. — Are there any slaves now held in this Territory?

    B.Y. — There are.

    H.G. — Do your Territorial laws uphold Slavery?

    B.Y. — Those laws are printed — you can read them for yourself. If slaves are brought here by those who owned them in the States, we do not favor their escape from the service of those owners.

    H.G. — Am I to infer that Utah, if admitted as a member of the Federal Union, will be a Slave State?

    B.Y. — No; she will be a Free State. Slavery here would prove useless and unprofitable. I regard it generally as a curse to the masters. I myself hire many laborers and pay them fair wages; I could not afford to own them. I can do better than subject myself to an obligation to feed and clothe their families, to provide and care for them, in sickness and health. Utah is not adapted to Slave Labor.

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